In a year characterized by what Donald Rumsfeld would call "known unknowns", WVU fans entered the 2013 edition of the Gold/Blue spring game with a boatload of expectations. They wanted to see a quarterback emerge with command of the offense. They wanted to see wide receivers emerge as playmakers. And they wanted to see a defense capable of stopping a stampede of angry puppies.
But c'mon guys. It's the spring game. If you come in expecting anything other than a reason to feed that football fix for just a few hours in the middle of April, you're probably setting your sights too high.
Having said that, there was football played and there were things to be gleaned and we are here to glean them for you. Let's do some gleaning.
Lot of good and bad, none of it unexpected. Both Paul Millard and Ford Childress seemed to struggle throwing downfield early and the playcalling seemed to be designed to get them settled in for the first half with a heapin' helpin' of short screens. Millard showed a little better command of the offense even if he did seem to hold onto the ball a little longer than you'd like. Ford made some good throws but often seemed to take awhile to be working through his progressions.
We came away thinking what we probably thought going in. Millard is the safe, experienced choice who will know the offense well enough to be functional, but Ford has the bigger arm and upside - he's just not quite ready for prime time yet. In an offense where decision-making trumps the need for a cannon, I'll be surprised if Ford can take that job away before September.
WVU is stocked at this position. Junior Andrew Buie was held out with an injury but the other backfield junior, Dustin Garrison, looked great and seems to be finally 100% back from his 2012 pre-Orange Bowl ACL tear. In addition to the returning players, freshman Wendell Smallwood showed exceptional burst on a couple runs, in particular a first half carry where he saw a hole & exploded upfield for a 15 yard game. Much talked-about JUCO transfer Dreamius Smith had a couple similar moments, carrying multiple tacklers for a long run in the first half and turning the corner with alarming speed for his size on another second half carry. All in all the backfield should be a strength this season.
Jordan Thompson owns the Gold and Blue game. Squirt saw last season's 8 catch, 66 yard and one score effort and raised it, going for 123 yards, 6 catches and 3 scores (2 from Millard, 1 from Childress). The play of the day though was much-anticipated JUCO transfer Kevin White's nifty 46 yard run-stop-and-run on a slip screen in the second half. For a WR corps that is in dire need of playmakers after losing a pair of the greatest in WVU history, that is exactly what folks wanted to see.
Let's just not talk about that. Spring games are just a glorified practice anyway, right?
Looked awesome. Big push by the guys up front that I'm sure had nothing to do with that last thing we just talked about. In all seriousness, one of the biggest reasons last year's secondary was under such assault is Big 12 quarterbacks were regularly seen doing their homework in the backfield. Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson has made no secret of his desire to get a lot more pressure on QBs from up front and solid performances from guys like Will Clarke and Shaq Rowell and Dozie Ezemma gave us every reason to expect just that.
Aside from quarterback play this might have been the unit that folks were most curious about. With visions of last second 90 yard touchdown receptions still dancing in our heads, we all wanted to see something that would indicate that this unit could be something more than historically bad. And I think we got that. Cornerback Travis Bell seems to be settling in well in his transition from safety, notching a couple nice tackles and an interception. K.J. Dillon made a very nice play on Cody Clay in the 4th quarter, timing his hit perfectly with the arrival of a swing pass. All in all a solid effort by the DBs and defense as a whole. Guys made good decisions and tackles - two things that were in short supply last season.
This unit was pretty limited by the rules of the scrimmage as there were no punt returns and kick returns were at about 1/4 speed. The field goal kicking started out shaky with a pair of misses but ended on a positive note as redshirt freshman Josh Lambert banged one from 47. With the graduation of Tyler Bitancurt, the kicking job is wide open. It would be nice if Lambert could grab that job early and keep it.
All in all we came out where we wanted to. Nobody looked terrible (with the possible exception of the O line, who were playing without starter Pat Eger), nobody got hurt, there were enough flashes of brilliance to stoke our optimism for the next 5 months and beer was drank. Wins all around. The battle for starting QB job will drag on into August and that's not necessarily a bad thing. You got a sense for how much value the staff put into this game afterwards when coach Dana Holgorsen dryly declared Jordan Thompson would "go down in the history books as the greatest spring game player of all time."
The most telling image of the day might have come from K.J. Dillon. On the game's final play, RB Smallwood took the hand-off around the right end and was met by a convoy of Blue defenders, with Dillon leading the way. After stopping Smallwood for a loss and thus securing the win, Dillon came up waving his arms, running and celebrating like he had just won a real game.
After a fall of embarrassment and a winter and spring of skepticism, it's pretty clear this defense is preparing for the upcoming season with a chip on its shoulder. This win mattered to them. Maybe that's a good sign.
Of course, they won last year's game, too.